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ON TUESDAY, hundreds of trade unionists across Scotland will attend STUC’s 123rd Congress. It will be our first ever held online.
That underlines that the period between 2019 and now has been one of the most fast-paced, turbulent and distressing times that our generation has witnessed.
We’re literally living through an epoch, moving from the pre-corona era to the post-corona era, and the lessons we learn and the choices we make now will determine our path for generations to come.
Pre-corona, we were already living in a Scotland where poverty and inequalities were baked into our system and getting worse. Where the collective wealth of the two richest families was worth more than the poorest 20 per cent of the population. Where our service sector was built on low-paid precarious work, our public sector was underfunded and asset-stripped. And where we failed to invest in housing, manufacturing, energy and transport infrastructure.
Yet even at the close of 2019, when the virus was already spreading across the globe, I doubt any of us realised the scale of what was about to hit or the fundamental impact it would have on all our lives.
By March we were in lockdown and hailing our NHS and key workers as heroes. And it’s true — they are.
We owe them a great debt of gratitude. Because while many were tucked up at home, working via the internet, the workers in our food shops and factories, in post and deliveries, in our care homes, our schools, local authorities, and all those providing essential services put themselves at risk to look after us.
And as we head for a second wave of this virus, through a long, hard winter, let’s not forget that although many of these highly skilled workers are still exhausted from the first wave, they’re being asked to do more to take care of us all over again.
So let’s recognise their contribution properly. Claps and rainbows don’t pay the bills. It’s time we gave them a decent pay rise.
Across our economy, day in day out, trade unionists are fighting to protect lives and livelihoods in response to the pandemic.
But we’re also fighting for a better future for our kids, for a fairer, more equal economy, greener industry, more high-quality jobs, investment in public services and significant state interventions, to build a Scotland that’s fit for the future.
And, yes, that means continuing to engage with the evolving debate on Scotland’s constitution.
Insisting on the right of the people of Scotland to determine their own constitutional path, including holding a further referendum on independence, should that be their wish.
But if Brexit has taught us anything, it is that there is much more to this than a simple binary choice and the STUC supports giving the greatest possible choice to the Scottish people, should the time come for another referendum.
Whatever happens, we will continue to remind both our governments of their duty to prioritise working people now.
We can’t afford to wait until after a referendum. We need action now on jobs and investment.
That is why we’ve launched The People’s Recovery report — because we need a new track for Scotland’s economy.
And when trade unionists speak of recovery, we do not mean reverting to life in 2019.
We mean recovering for working-class people the income, wealth and sense of collective purpose stolen from them by decades of political bias towards the rich and powerful.
A national care service, a green stimulus package, sectoral collective bargaining and democratic public ownership — these are some of the key areas which we will be campaigning on in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament elections.
This virus has held up a mirror of truth to the state we’re in and taught us some key lessons: that those countries where inequalities were the least have fared the best; that those countries who were prepared to act decisively were the most successful at suppressing the virus and lessening negative economic impact; that our public services are underfunded to an unsustainable level; that bad jobs kill; and that the caring economy really matters.
It doesn’t matter how fast our GDP is growing if the gap between the richest and poorest isn’t narrowing, with too many left behind.
We have much still to do and huge challenges to face, but in our darkest moments, let’s remember that from the ashes of WWII, the British working class built the NHS, decent housing and a welfare state that benefited and raised living standards for millions, and similarly from the ashes of this pandemic, we can grow the roses of a more equal and sustainable green economy, where all workers can get a fairer share of our nation’s wealth.
Roz Foyer is general secretary of the Scottish TUC.
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